EFL Civil War: Who is Leading the Broadcast Battle?

EFL Civil War: Who is Leading the Broadcast Battle?
Aaron Rogan
Aaron Rogan
November 23, 2018
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Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

This week, it was revealed that the EFL agreed on a controversial new TV deal with Sky Sports. The £595million bundle contains league and Carabao Cup action, covering the next five seasons from 2019/20 onwards. While that offers plenty of security, some leading Championship clubs have criticised the figure. They’ve even floated the idea of a breakaway.

We have already raced through the reasons for the anger from leading sides, but who is taking part? It’s already drawn comparisons with Brexit and been labelled as a war, with no sign of the outrage ending. Here we’re running through the latest rumours as some of the Championship’s top sides turn on the EFL.

The Ringleaders

Derby vs Leeds Predictions

Before the EFL signed off on the deal, Leeds shot out of the gate to show their opposition. Owner Andrea Radrizzani called for the biggest sides in the second tier to leave the EFL and push for a Premier League 2. His side featured on Sky 19 times last season, which earned them a £7.5million pay-day. That doesn’t compare well with West Brom – who picked up £94million from their last-place finish in the Premier League. It’s no wonder Radrizzani wants in.

However, the Leeds owner does have some expertise in the field. His Eleven Sports streaming service currently broadcast Serie A and La Liga in the UK. They’ve built up a platform across the globe, so you’d think the EFL would use him as a resource.

However, the EFL went ahead and pressed on with the Sky deal, without meeting the clubs who requested a sit down to discuss some issues. That has flared up this clash, which could potentially end up in a legal battle. A day after the deal, a meeting of top Championship sides took place in Birmingham. Leeds, Derby and Aston Villa are said to have featured among that group.

Given that those names seem to appear on TV almost every week, they seem to have a point. Huddersfield’s first season out of the Championship saw them appear in nine live Premier League games. For that, and after a 16th place finish, they landed £102million in prize money. EFL clubs will share £119million a season for the next five years. That’s far from a bad yearly income, but the growing gulf is obvious.

The Rebel Alliance

It seems like the majority of the Championship is turning on the EFL as things stand. A statement from unnamed clubs claimed, “Nineteen clubs from the league wrote to the EFL asking them not to sign the deal and to engage in meaningful discussions.”

They went on to say, “Our issues are not with Sky, who we respect and value, but with the way in which the proposed agreement has been negotiated and explained to clubs.” Before adding ominously, “There is a calm determination within Championship clubs to ensure the matter is not left here.”

We’ve had public statements, with Hull’s Ehab Allam coming out and backing Radrizzani. He backed the Premier League 2 plan, saying, “The needs of the Championship clubs are much more in line with those of the Premier League than the other divisions in the EFL.”

So, if over 75% of clubs are against the EFL, who do they have on their side?

The EFL Loyalists

Here’s where it starts to get murky. Primarily, the rebel Championship clubs claim they are turning on the governing body for the good of all 72 clubs. However, not all Championship clubs joined in. It seems like Bolton have decided to stay neutral, although the league’s second from bottom side were never likely to push for a Premier League 2 out of self-interest. That seems to rule them out of the group which expressed concerns, but the heads of all 24 clubs have met about their next move.

There are rumours of which five sides didn’t join the majority of the league, but no confirmations. However, we do know three sides who were front and centre for the deal. Reading, Brentford and Bristol City have a seat each on the EFL’s nine-seat board. The decision to approve the TV deal was said to be unanimous, so those three all voted in favour.

The clubs could have changed their mind, but it seems those three are ready to accept the new terms. They are very much in the minority, and the trio could end up joining the rest of the rebel sides in trying to gain more power from the EFL.

What About the Rest of the EFL?

The Championship sides are the main agitators here, so they’ve almost left the rest of the EFL behind. It’s not hard to see why with the bottom two tiers earning £1.8million for each of their 20 live matches. That compares to just £500,000 per match for Championship. However, the lower sides will likely be used as a shield by the EFL. The governing body could argue that uncertainty over TV income would be particularly dangerous for League One and Two sides, and they’d have a point.

With the top teams pushing for the revolt, the sides lower down are out of the loop. Accrington chairman Andy Holt told the BBC, “I don’t know what’s going on and I own a club.”

The main worry for those sides is the prospect of a Premier League 2. They don’t get huge sums from the deal, but the EFL’s income is obviously boosted by the big names at the top of the Championship. Should they leave, then the gap between the second tier and the rest of the Football League would grow.

What Happens Next?

A bigger influence in future TV deals seems to be the most likely outcome for Championship sides. Europe’s top clubs have gained more and more say over the Champions League’s format and prize money with breakaway threats. The only issue for the big clubs who want a change is the length of this deal.

If a legal challenge doesn’t stop the deal with Sky – who the clubs claim not to have a problem with – then it will stick. That means they’re locked into a broadcast deal through to mid-2024 when the world could look very different. Even if those clubs get their way in the next deal, a current Premier League side could have earned £500million in prize money alone by then. With those numbers at stake, this is sure to drag on.

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